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Volume 15, Issue 1: Ex Libris

Some Books

Woelke Leithart

Hollywood Worldviews
Brian Godawa
Intervarsity Press, 2002

Anyone taking a peek at the modern movie industry can tell that it's a mess. If the movie isn't virtually equal to pornography, then it's simply stupid and not worth the film it's printed on (notice that either of these categories I just mentioned can conjure up the names of dozens of films from the last five years). But even in wading through the bog that is modern Hollywood, there are islands of hope. Not every movie is worthy of the dung-heap. But how are we to distinguish between the filth and the gems?

Brian Godawa's new book, Hollywood Worldviews, seeks to fulfill this task. Right from the outset, Godawa divides most Christians into two camps: cultural anorexics and cultural gluttons—those who refuse to associate with pop culture and those who swallow it without chewing. Both are opposite sides of Aristotle's fabled golden mean, and so of course we should aim for the middle. That, at least, is Godawa's argument.
The book methodically describes the basic worldviews found in movies—existentialism and postmodernism—as well as a few other less pervasive and obvious players. Godawa then examines how the movies deal with these worldviews. To a large extent, Godawa succeeds in his task. He offers an excellent summary of the various worldviews presupposed in popular movies along with insights into how these relate to our own situations.
Godawa also spends about a third of his book dealing with how movies deal with topics of spirituality. How is the devil portrayed in Hollywood? Is this a good thing or a bad thing? He also deals specifically with faith, since it is an essential Christian virtue. In many movies, he shows the reader, faith is shallow, useless, and insubstantial.
One of the admitted problems with Godawa's book is that he doesn't mention what's wrong with the movies he analyzes. For example, his analysis of Hannibal (2001) might lead the reader to think that this cannibalistic bloodbath was a worthwhile movie—after all, it has Last Supper and Ascension imagery. Godawa tries to make this clear in the first chapter that inclusion in his book does not equal endorsement of a movie's contents, but this is easily forgotten in the fascination of the plot devices.
The worst thing about Godawa's book is that it is only 208 pages. The analysis given is so insightful that more is almost immediately wanted. I found myself wondering what he thought about more recent movies and whether he noticed certain themes or Christian elements. This problem is partially solved, however, by the mention of Godawa's website, www.godawa.com, where he has added more depth to almost every chapter.
Overall, I found this book fascinating. Godawa's ability to dissect a movie and draw out the worldviews involved in its creation is amazing. I didn't always agree with his analysis—personally, I am still rather put off by any drawing out of Christian imagery from The Matrix—but it was still good to see someone thinking about movies.

Freddy the Pig
Walter R. Brooks
Currently printed by Overlook Press, 2002

In the world of children's literature, a good deal of what the last century has produced is worth hardly more than kindling. An outstanding exception to this, however, is a series of books written by Walter R. Brooks, the creator of the famous Mr. Ed, known simply as the "Freddy the Pig" books.

As one might guess from the title, the series chronicles the adventures of a pig whose Christian name is Freddy. But Freddy is no ordinary pig. In the words of the New York Times Book Review, Freddy is a "Renaissance Pig." His exploits range from being a cowboy to a newspaper publisher, from pilot to detective, from politician to poet—though not always a very good one. Along with his friends, he lives on a farm in upstate New York owned by a Mr. Bean. The range of characters is immense: Jinx the cat, Mrs. Wiggins (cow), Uncle Wesley (duck), and Mr. Boomschmidt, the owner of the circus that regularly visits the area.
At times, the Freddy books offer an excellent satire of aspects of America in the first part of the last century. Wiggins For President (lately retitled Freddy the Politician) offers such a look, touching such subjects as democracy, ballot fraud, and dictatorships. But the books should not be thought of as just satire. Brooks seems to be out to enjoy himself and help his readers enjoy themselves too. Every chapter produces a chuckle. These become more common with familiarity.
Of course, like any fantasy, disbelief must in some ways be suspended. The animals do talk, and the human beings do not see this as the least bit unusual. Freddy's friend, Uncle Ben, invents spaceships and atomic-powered station wagons. At the time of his death in 1958, Brooks had written twenty-six Freddy books. I can heartily recommend any of them for both children and adults. Those on the lookout for such things can be informed that Freddy and his companions make excellent read-aloud tales.

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